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Moving "too hastily and in a sloppy manner"

April 9, 2012

New standards for reactivating nuke reactors are too hasty and sloppy




The government should be criticized for having moved too hastily and in a sloppy manner when it set new standards for deciding whether to reactivate nuclear reactors, even though the criteria are crucial in ensuring the safety of the public.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and three Cabinet ministers concerned approved the standards on April 6 with an eye to approving resumption of operations at the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture, which are currently suspended for regular inspections.

The standards apply to not only the Oi reactors but also to all nuclear plants across Japan. Nevertheless, the government spent only three days on working out the standards -- from the prime minister's instruction to do so until the adoption.

The government claims that the new standards are based on knowledge and lessons learned from the crisis at the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant and were adopted earlier than initially intended, but it is hardly convincing. The government has not yet got to the bottom of the accident, and the standards appear to contain nothing new.

The first of the three pillars of the standards only calls for safety measures that can be implemented soon, such as the installation of power-supply vehicles, which had been simply gleaned from 30-point measures that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) compiled in late March.

The second pillar requires the government to confirm that nuclear fuel will never be damaged in case of earthquakes and tsunami similar to those that hit the Fukushima plant. However, the government maintains that it can confirm whether nuclear power stations meet this standard through a primary safety assessment.

The third pillar calls for the construction of quake-absorbing structures on the premises of nuclear plants and other mid- and long-term safety measures. However, the government will reportedly deem that nuclear plants meet this condition if their operators submit their plans to implement these measures.

In other words, the new standards were worked out by only putting together emergency safety measures and the results of safety assessments that power suppliers have already implemented, giving the utility firms an excuse for putting off time-consuming safety measures. It even appears that the government intentionally worked out looser standards so that utilities can meet them in order to hasten the reactivation of Oi nuclear plant's idled reactors.

Since the government has adopted a policy of cutting down its reliance on nuclear power with risks involving such plants fully in mind, it should not have worked out standards on the assumption that no reactor will fail safety assessments. Rather, the government should compare flaws involving various nuclear plants and improve the standards so that it can refuse to permit reactivation of high-risk plants.

Further questionable is that the standards are based on the principle that the government must confirm that nuclear fuel will never be damaged if hit by earthquakes and tsunami as massive as those that hit the Fukushima plant. However, an important lesson learned from the Fukushima nuclear crisis is that nuclear plant operators must be prepared for massive disasters that are beyond the scope of assumptions. Considering that a serious accident leading to reactor core meltdowns could occur, the government should assess the performance of nuclear plants' vents equipped with filters and the risks resulting from the lack of quake-absorbing structures as well as other factors in an appropriate manner.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano says there is no need for reactivation of nuclear reactors stopped for regular inspections if the overall supply of electric power is sufficient.

The government will further lose the public's confidence if it sticks to its stance to implement the safety standards worked out hastily in order to reactivate idled nuclear reactors without providing a sufficient explanation of its forecast of electricity supply and demand.

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